Founded by Bill and Al Schleicher, the organization has stayed true to its roots by providing campers with a carefree experience, similar to its namesake fictional character.
When the camp was close to shuttering operations in the 1970s, current owner Mike Horner refused to let this part of his city die. “You can’t close camp! It’s been part of the community for 50 years,” Horner said before he bought it. Horner and his late wife, Sally, experienced firsthand the huge difference camp made in their three children’s lives, and decided to dedicate the remainder of their lives to it.
TSC, which boasts many second- and third-generation campers, prides itself on its counselors, which they say set it apart from other camps in the area. Counselors go through extensive training to learn how to best enrich the campers’ experience while keeping the groups safe in a fun environment. A large number of counselors were first campers themselves. “I started as a camper at age 5, came up through the camp program and went from junior counselor to senior counselor,” said Karen Yenofsky, the director of TSC horseback riding. “Now I’m a director and my daughter is in the middle of her fourth summer at camp. It’s amazing to see her having some of the same experiences that I did as a kid.”
TSC doesn’t stray from tradition with regards to the camp’s initial activities, and the main ones continue to be horseback riding, archery and swimming. Once the campers hit middle school, a separate group, known as Outpost, combines boys and girls for new activities, including rock climbing, windsurfing and kayaking.
Unique to TSC is its location. Since 1944, the camp has been nestled behind Devil’s Gate Dam in the Arroyo Seco, which gives campers use of the Hahamongna Watershed Park. Campers play games and build forts in the watershed, as well ride horses in the area just south of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Campers frequently return home drenched and covered in mud, complementing the ear-to-ear grins on their faces.
“Camp provides children with the opportunity to connect with nature, participate in human-powered activities, and to benefit from personal and primary relationships,” said Sarah Horner Fish, TSC executive director. “Many young people who attend camp, experience an increase in their self-esteem and are able to establish a true sense of independence apart from their families.”
TSC recently hosted its annual barbecue, giving campers the chance to introduce their parents to their counselors and what they do at camp each day. The barbecue began with singing, as does every day at camp, with everyone in attendance encouraged to sing along with the leaders, before digging into the food and mixing and mingling.
TSC runs for 10 weeks each summer and also offers several after school programs during the school year. To learn more visit tomsawyercamps.com.